In case the date/ending wasn’t clear, this was The Faceoff Circle’s 2018 April Fools Day article. Enjoy!
After months (okay, years) of speculation about who the next General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs will be, sources have informed The Faceoff Circle that a decision has been made; and not one that many expected. Shortly after the conclusion of this season (a timeline that could mean weeks or months), the team will shock the hockey world by naming 24-year-old Josh Leivo as the new Boss on Bay Street.
Leivo has been a member of the Leafs organization since 2011, when the team drafted him as a player out of the Ontario Hockey League. He signed an entry-level contract with Toronto in 2013, which began his full-time professional career. Since then, Leivo’s hockey-playing road has been rocky, bouncing back and forth between the Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies until 2016, and since playing just 34 games in the past 24 months, impressing the team enough that they didn’t want to risk losing him, but not enough to slide into the every-day lineup.
However, the idle time ended up becoming the genesis of a new career for the youngster. Leivo took an interest in hockey analytics last season in hopes of finding evidence of his talents to pass along to the coaching staff, developing an encyclopedic knowledge of new-age hockey philosophy in the process, along with the ability to code in multiple languages. In the process, Leivo developed a cross-league player evaluation model said to be “light years” ahead of anything that the public or the rest of the league has access to. Though, in a twist of fate, the model was used by the team to call up Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott at an optimal time, rather than to create a playing opportunity for himself.
Knowing the climate of the game and the reality of his situation, Leivo decided that to make that the first of many tools. Throughout the season, he has made a point to pick the minds of the braintrust up top, learning bits and pieces of just about every front-office employee’s job, going as far as to job-shadow members of management after practices and on game nights where he was scratched. Through his agent Ian Pulver and the Will Sports Group, he established a framework of connections with front offices around the NHL, rarely getting into the specifics of his team or his own ambitions but building about as good of a rapport as he could.
Since the All Star Break, the Leafs have allowed him some flexiblity to participate in war-room situations and day-to-day operations, all while attempting to push himself into the lineup himself. The latter wasn’t an overly successful mission; even with injuries in mind, Leivo has played just four games since New Years, but Leivo’s blend of having incredibly recent playing experience at several different levels and newfound alertness to the ever-changing game have given him a rather unprecidented level of instant respect for an aspiring executive of his youth.
A major component that gives Leivo the edge here is the relationship he already has with the coaching staff and players; Mike Babcock, who already felt favourably about Leivo has a player, has found a stronger bond with him than any other working member of the front office, and the goodwill he’s developed as a teammate is expected to go a long way for the upcoming wave of contract negotiations that will impact the team’s core.
Unless another NHL team beats them to the punch, Leivo will become the youngest General Manager in NHL history (supplanting John Chayka), and will be the second player to go straight from the roster to the board room, following in the footsteps of New York Islanders GM Garth Snow. His annual salary as General Manager remains unknown, but our source tells us that, as an act of good faith, the team will be giving Leivo his full 2018/19 player salary (that he’ll forfeit upon retirement) of $925,000 as a signing bonus.
Also unknown is the ripple effect that this will have across other parts of the organization. Brendan Shanahan and the MLSE Board of Directors are have total confidence in the move, despite the unorthodox nature of the decision. Lou Lamoriello is expected to stick around in some capacity to deal with the more stubborn of the “Hockey Men”, but the futures of Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter will likely hang in the balance of the league-wide job market. While both Assistant GM’s have a lot of respect for what Leivo has done to make himself, and have worked together successfully with him on team projects over the past few months, both recognize that a leap-frogging like this likely closes their ability to climb up the Leafs’ ladder.
Personally speaking, I’m incredibly interested to see how this all shakes out. I think we can all agree that this wasn’t the expected conclusion to this GM race; a team that has spoken so much about a vast long-term plan handing the keys to the decision-making vehicle to the 13th or 14th forward on the team, and the idea that a player like Leivo could abandon the dream of playing for the joys of the boardroom before his 25th birthday. Quite frankly, it sounds insane.
But here’s the thing: It would have to take a brilliant, brilliant person to do the things he’s done to set himself apart as quickly has he has. To become a five-tool management asset, who can connect with the players, the coaches, the bosses and even the spreadsheet pushers in the span of months is unprecedented. If he’s really, truly been able to become the best possible option to an organization this deep at the managerial level, they’d be foolish to ignore his potential.---
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